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31 Aug, 2010 06:07

Indian village chooses death over hunger

In eastern India, crop failure due to a severe two-year drought is pushing one village to take extreme measures. The inhabitants are threatening to commit mass suicide.

In the village of Jarad in a remote part of eastern India, Surendra Karmali lives alongside his family, including his little grandson. While his life may look like a happy picture, the reality is quite the opposite.

With no food to eat, Surendra and over 20 other farmers in the small village of about 300 families have threatened to commit mass suicide.

“Ultimately we all have to die one day, so why suffer like this every day? It’s better to die now,” says farmer Surendra Karmali. “We are so helpless that we’ve come to the conclusion that committing suicide is the best option. No one would like to die early, but without food to eat, how many days can a person want to live?”

The region has had an acute drought for two years now. This has driven villagers from Jarad to write a letter to the President of India and the state Governor asking for rations and irrigation facilities. If help fails to arrive, they say they will commit suicide.

“We requested immediate food aid from the governor… For the long-term, some development work that could provide us with employment, such as digging a new well and improving the road to our village, which is in a bad state,” says villager Joginder Singh Kharwal.

The farmers are desperate as the entire state of Jharkhand grapples with a 42% rainfall deficit this year. Julay Munda showed the RT crew his field which should have been full of crops at this time of year, but lies barren instead.

“We have used up all our seeds, but for the last two years, there has not been enough water for our crops to grow. Seeing the desperate situation in our homes, we are thinking, ‘What is the point of living?’” says villager Julay Munda.

The suicide request has jolted the local administration into action. Promises of food and development have been made, but little has actually reached the village. Officials at the district headquarters did not respond to RT’s request for an interview. Meanwhile, in Jarad, villagers wait for the promised aid.

“All the senior officials have visited us from the local administration, along with our elected Member of Parliament. They have given us assurances, but I don’t know when to expect action – it may take five days, fifteen days or a month. We are rural folk, and clearly not so important to the government,” Joginder Singh Kharwal says.

With the entire village driven to despair, the government will have to take urgent steps to prevent this from turning into a major crisis.